Must have? Really?

This is what my email inbox looked like one morning in mid-May: ‘must-have’ spring jackets; ‘must-have’ ingredients for youthful looks; and a little further down my emails – ‘must-have’ summer styles. I don’t think I’ve had a ‘must-have’ funeral plan – yet.

Being somewhat of a rebel, this well-worn but psychologically clever cliché tends to have the opposite effect on me. ‘No thanks’, I’ll say inwardly, ‘not if you tell me I need it.’

Perhaps that comes from experience and maturity (without the ingredients to make me look more youthful), but it’s far more difficult for our younger generations who are subject to the same manipulative and enticing advertising that we are, but are less equipped to resist.

Their young minds are not yet matured, are easily influenced and vulnerable to suggestion; they want to fit in with the crowd. I did, when I was young. I’m sure you did too.

Those of us who are parents or caring for children and young people know first hand the power of advertising on them. They ‘must have’ the latest trainers; the latest Xbox games; the latest fashion; the latest toys; or – as in one teen son’s case – the latest version of the rather brilliant Oculus Quest (a virtual reality headset, if you must ask).

Ironically, the one ‘must-have’ that we all need – the one and only Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ – is soundly rejected by the majority of young and old. Meanwhile, the pressures to accept the temporary and fickle must-haves offered up by the world continue.

They promise happiness but they do not fulfil our inherent need for lasting happiness.

‘Yes please’, says the world, ‘I’ll have that!’

‘No thank you, God’, says the world. ‘I don’t need you.’

Parenting through these pressures is tough. ‘I need it. I must have it!’ says the child. ‘No, you want it but you don’t need it’, I’ll say. They feel hard done by; I feel a little bad for saying ‘no’. But then, it didn’t hurt me for my parents to say ‘no’ when I wanted something that I didn’t need.

But then neither did my parents, nor I and my siblings, have the digital bombardment of advertising that we face today. Parenting in the West today is, in many ways, more challenging than ever before. But we’re also reassured in Scripture that there is nothing new under the sun; and that our God is unchanging.

These types of pressures on our children are not a new phenomenon. They are undoubtedly more incessant and harder to resist, but they give us another valuable opportunity to respond with a Biblical perspective. It’s a chance to discuss the difference between wants and needs (doesn’t God always provide our needs?; the dangers of coveting or wanting something we don’t have; of teaching our children that happiness through ‘things’ is temporary even if acquiring things brings instant satisfaction.

A presumably aged, seasoned King Solomon (traditionally considered to be the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes), wrote almost despairingly of the vanity of life. He acquired great wisdom and knowledge; more wealth than most could dream of; he acquired anything he wanted. But he realised ‘all was vanity’.

Solomon’s wisdom

Instead, he recognised that true happiness can only be found in fearing God and keeping His commandments. And this is why he tells his readers to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. With hindsight, Solomon recognised that this was the only route to finding authentic pleasure in life.

That’s not to say he believed it was wrong to possess great riches (Paul wrote to Timothy that it’s the love of money that is the root of all evil). Solomon didn’t even ask for wealth. The important lesson he is imparting is to fear God. That is to be our priority – however young we are.

Let’s rise to the challenge when we can and show our children a better way to respond to the enticement to ‘must have’.

‘Imperfect Mum’ has both sons and daughters. She attends a Baptist church somewhere north of Watford.

Life Within Limits

How your limits reflect God’s design and why
that’s good news.
By Kelly M. Kapic
Brazos Press. 261 pages. £16.99 (hardback)
ISBN 978 1 587 435 102

Some books are like tasty snacks, others are more like a substantial meal, but this book is like a feast, a smorgasbord of good things to delight the eye, inform the mind and nourish the soul.

The book is about coming to terms with our limitations by remembering our creatureliness and learning to develop a healthy sense of dependence.

This theologically rich book helps the reader see that human limitations are not necessarily a result of our sinfulness, but rather a result of being a creature who is dependent upon God.

The author demonstrates this by carefully laying out a theological feast, with ingredients drawn from a wide range of theological traditions. This displays a generosity of mind and a creative curiosity that guides the reader to sample tastes that might not be immediately obvious.

There is something wonderfully liberating about this. It frees us from constantly beating ourselves up for what seems like underachieving, liberates us from the treadmill of unrealistic expectations, and allows us to rest in the reality of who we are as creatures made in the image of God.

I like the way that, in the noble tradition of works like Augustine’s Confessions, the author weaves theological reflection with personal narrative and pastorally sensitive application.

What impresses me most about this book is what emerges in the six pages of acknowledgements; it is full of people. It is testimony to the author’s awareness that to be truly alive we need to cultivate relationships with both God and people. The author also informs us that this book has been 20 years in the making; it shows. This is not fast-food theology that briefly fills the reader, but a feast upon which we can graze in a leisurely way. Accept the invitation to dine with this author and it will be a meal that you will not forget in a hurry.

‘God has made us to be limited creatures, able to freely participate in his work, confident in his presence, and grateful for his promises and provision. Let us appreciate the goodness of our finitude as we rest in the love and provision of our infinitely good God. May it be so.’

Amen to that!

John Woods

John Woods, en Reviews Editor and Training Director, School of Preachers

Do we tell half-truths?

This year, there has been a stand-out new genre on streaming services: the scammer show.

These dramatic reconstructions of ‘fake it until you make it’ chart the rise and fall of charismatic individuals who persuaded people to depart with eye-watering sums of money. Among them, Inventing Anna is the story of the fake German heiress Anna Sorokin, WeCrashed tells of the Neumans who raised billions of dollars whilst running at a colossal loss and, in my opinion, the best, The Dropout charts the fall of the biotech company Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes.

Elizabeth Holmes claimed to have developed a way to simplify diagnostic blood testing and raised more than $400 million for her tech firm. However, the technology did not exist, and she was convicted of fraud in January. She is currently awaiting sentencing. Why were people taken in? It is too simplistic to say greed. Money played a part, but it is more complex than that. People wanted to believe the story of the brilliant young woman who would transform health care – the archetypal ‘girl boss’. They wanted to be part of her revolution to change the world and were seduced by her articulate and persuasive personality. They embraced her vision – ‘a world in which no one ever has to say goodbye too soon’. The media loved her, as did the American elite; Presidents feted her. From Rupert Murdoch to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, influential people were taken in. But it was all image, not substance; lies and half-truths. She had created a brand, not a reality. Her story is a tale as old as time. It is the story of the destructive power of lies.

What is true?

Books, podcasts and dramatisations of scammer stories are big business. Our culture is deeply anxious about lies: what is real and fake in our digital world? What is accurate, and what is half true? If even the most educated elite in the world can be taken in, how can we protect ourselves from deception? As more and more stories are told, we ask ourselves – would we have been taken in too? Who can we trust? What can we trust? The ground beneath our feet is unstable.

The Bible is a story of the destructive power of a lie, but also the redemptive power of the one who is the truth. However, sadly we have heard of churches that have deceived people and abused their trust, and some of their stories fit right into the ‘scammer’ genre.

Do we tell the truth?

It is easy to spot scams coming from the prosperity megachurches, but what about closer to home? Do we manipulate people with our versions of half-truths? How can we protect ourselves from deception? When we talk about our churches, do we tell the truth? Do we exaggerate numbers and so-called ministry ‘success’? Do our websites present the truth or a glossy image?

I know of one church where a ministry trainee was posed talking with an elderly congregation member just for the website; in reality, the generations were segregated by services and did not know one another. Have we turned our churches into products that we market to consumers? Do people come because of an articulate, persuasive leader? Are people being introduced to Jesus or the gospel of (insert name of a local church)? I once heard a talk at a church guest event, and the whole pitch was ‘come to this church’. Our churches are not brands to sell, but we live in such a consumer culture I fear we can’t always understand the difference.

What story do we want people to believe? When we began as a church plant, we were advised to have a story to tell about our origin to attract people. We have a story, but it’s not about us – it is all about Jesus. People desperately need the firm foundation of the gospel. We must renounce secret and shameful ways, and proclaim Jesus; He is the way, the truth and the life. Who can we believe? Jesus! What can we trust? The gospel! Woe to us when we forget this.

Karen Soole

Karen Soole is the women’s worker at Trinity Church, Lancaster and the Women’s Ministry Director for Anglican Mission in England.

Evangelical Futures: The ‘fanatical arrogance of men of science’

‘I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in’ (C.S. Lewis, 1958).

Laura Dodsworth’s recent book, A State of Fear: how the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic, is a troubling read. It exposes the extent to which behavioural scientists and their ‘psychological operations’ to manipulate behaviour have become a pervasive tool of government. This coercive power over populations has been amply manifest over the past two years, as has the influence of scientists generally; the voices of the SAGEs have been ubiquitous in the public consciousness, like oracles of a national religion, the source of all guidance and authority.

The pretension of science to pre-eminence in directing public life is not new, nor is the danger it presents. Recently I came across a pastoral letter written in July 1968 by my father, James Philip, to the congregation of Holyrood Abbey Church, Edinburgh. It referenced a serious proposal then being considered: that the House of Lords be abolished and replaced with a ‘House of Scientists’, a body of ‘experts’ to apply scientific knowledge and advances in technology for the greater good of society. I was struck by how prescient these words were, and their relevance today, more than 50 years on.

‘The basic fallacy is the assumption that scientists as scientists must necessarily be more qualified to rule the nation or the world than other men. One would have thought that the history of the twentieth century with its grim record of scientific destruction … nuclear powers, the existence of terrifying nerve gases and the possibilities of bacteriological warfare, would tend to qualify the credulous enthusiasm men seem to have for the great ones of the scientific world. But apparently not… . “Within this generation”, one scientist is on record as saying, “the scientist will cease to be the man on tap, and become the man on top. Many scientists have their hands on the controls of political action. This is one of the most optimistic things about the future of man.”

‘This is an optimism that we do not and cannot share, but can only view with the deepest misgiving.’

He went on to discuss by way of example a widely-viewed documentary celebrating (then) 20 years of the NHS, which had examined the ‘science’ of preventing abnormality in children:

‘No-one who has had experience of the heartache and distress brought to homes and families by such tragedies could fail to be thankful for any medical research that seeks to alleviate or prevent the long agonies of afflicted parents and children. But research is one thing, the imposition of control (as implied in the programme) is quite another. And what was so disquieting was to realise just how far medical authorities would be prepared to go (in the name of scientific advancement) in advocating legislation to prevent parents having children if there was the possibility of their being abnormal. … There is a great deal of thinking of this nature in scientific circles today, which strikes at the very foundation of Christian ethics and Christian ideas of human dignity and freedom. Two or three years ago the CIBA Foundation, a foundation for the encouragement of medical and scientific knowledge, gathered together distinguished scientists from four continents to discuss “the future of man”. The papers read at this Conference … were alarming in the extreme: Genetics (the study of heredity) and Eugenics (the production of “high-grade” offspring) should be employed, it was said, to raise the general level of genetic intelligence and increase the number of outstandingly intelligent and capable people needed to run our increasingly complex societies – this from Julian Huxley. Another scientist proposed that this could be done by a Government putting a chemical into our food or water which made everybody sterile, and then provide a second chemical capable of reversing the effect of the first for those whom it licensed to bear children.’

One question that all this raised was whether human beings have a right to have children… . ‘This is taken for granted because it is part of Christian ethics, but in terms of humanist ethics, I do not see why people should have the right to have children’ said one scientist. Another agreed, saying ‘in a society in which the community is responsible for people’s welfare – health, hospitals, unemployment, insurance – the answer is No.’

This is the ‘brave new world’ to which the men of science hope, and intend, to bring us. And those who do not care much for the idea will receive short shrift: ‘Unless the average man can understand and appreciate the world that scientists have discovered … playing a constructive part in it, he will fall into the position of an ever less important cog in a vast machine. In this situation his own powers of determining his fate, and his very will to do so, will dwindle, and the minority who rule over him will eventually find ways of doing without him.’

This deadly philosophy is not new: it found expression and was put into practice with fateful consequences for the world in the Third Reich in Germany, when Hitler’s megalomaniac dream of a pure Aryan race led to the appalling genocidal atrocities of the gas chambers and concentration camps, all stemming from the philosophy of the superman dreamt up by the brilliant intellectual madman, Nietzsche. One critic at the Conference said: ‘It is just as well that the first cycle of eugenics did die because we have seen in Nazism where it may lead. I think that it is no accident that the Nazi’s doctrines about sterilisation were closely linked, intellectually and morally, to Nazi doctrines about genocide. That is why I am so alarmed to see what is happening today’.

Alarmed indeed! Well might we all be alarmed as we see the dangerous and fanatical arrogance of men of science and realise that there are those bemused enough by their intellectual brilliance to think that this qualifies them to rule the country. Long ago, King David uttered timeless words when he said: ‘He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God’ (2 Sam. 23:3). This is still the Divine prescription today, and it is neglected at our peril. To put man in place of God as the master of all things is to abolish all absolute standards of morality and to invite disaster in society and in personal life alike.

As we look back over the past two years, it is hard to deny that the universal assumption underlying much of our own and other governments’ response to the pandemic has been that human beings – and scientists in particular – are the masters of all things, including nature, and see themselves increasingly as the arbiters of right and wrong, of truth and lies, and of what may be spoken and what must be censored in the public sphere.

It is this dark shadow of technocratic totalitarianism C.S. Lewis warned of in an essay in the Observer in 1958, where he said: ‘I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in.’

Lewis continued: ‘The new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. …This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists’ puppets. Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend.’

Men like my father and C.S. Lewis lived through the middle decades of the 20th century, witnesses to the rise of the totalitarian regimes of both Nazis and Soviets, in both of which, tellingly, science and medicine were the willing handmaids to horrific and terrifying evil. Unlike many today, softened as we are by decades of decadence and ease, they were alert to these very real dangers which today’s society – and church – in the West seems to have too easily forgotten. We do so at our peril.

Another 20th-century theologian who saw with great clarity was Emil Brunner, who in his post-war Gifford Lectures in 1947, ‘Christianity and Civilisation’, spoke about the sinister combination of the extraordinary developments of modern technology, which tempt modern man with a feeling of God-like power, and the arrogance of the totalitarian ideal in the modern Godless state: ‘It is then that man, identifying himself with that state, can believe himself to be God, the creator of his own existence, having in his hands unlimited powers and illimitable authority over other men. This totalitarian man is, in all probability, the monster of the Apocalypse who tramples down and devours humanity.’

He went on to warn that: ‘the totalitarian state is the most urgent problem of our civilisation at this present hour. For it is precisely in this generation that it should become obvious where the de-Christianisation of culture and civilisation – the main feature of the past few centuries – leads.’

Three-quarters of a century on, in this present hour of our generation, we are now far further down that road of emancipation from Christian truth Brunner warned would inevitably ‘lead to the total effacement of anything truly human’. Amid a culture being submerged in a social epidemic of aggressive transgenderism and a technological quest to embrace transhumanism, it is obvious we are indeed utterly confused about what it means to be human, and accelerating headlong towards the nadir of grim absurdity.

The challenge facing the orthodox Christian church in the West today is to be awake and alert to reality, and determined enough both to defend itself from such ideological onslaughts, and help preserve society from self-inflicted ruin, which is surely what true (not trite) love for our neighbour entails.

Rod Dreher in his recent book Live Not By Lies, articulates clearly how in the West today we are already living under ‘soft totalitarian’ conditions, where ‘liberal’ progressives have gained almost total control, not of the means of economic production like their Bolshevik predecessors, but of the means of cultural production. As a result, increasingly nothing will be permitted which contradicts society’s ruling ideology. And given that the culture shapers are so enmeshed with the world of big tech, the vast data harvesting and manipulation they possess give powerful tools for surveillance and social control to force conformity ‘demonising, excluding, and even persecuting all who resist its harsh dogmas’. ‘This is the brave new world of the twenty-first century’ he says, and a much ‘harder’ totalitarianism ‘is coming, and it is coming fast.’

Back in 1968 my father concluded his letter thus: ‘This is one more reason why Christian people should be actively involved in public affairs, standing for Christian moral values and being prepared to defend them vigorously when they are attacked or subtly undermined. Are we to remain dumb and unprotesting when we see what remains of our Christian heritage contemptuously swept aside by atheistic decadents in favour of this bleak and devilish programme? We must not contract out of this urgent responsibility. In this, as in so much else, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.’

How much more urgent that challenge is today. This is not a time for pietism or quietism: ‘Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus’ (Rev. 14:12) – in the public square, not just in the private sanctuary.

William Philip

William Philip has been minister of the Tron Church, Glasgow, since August 2004. He moved from London, where for five years he was Director of Ministry with The Proclamation Trust, working with ministers, teaching those training for ministry in the Cornhill Training Course, and overseeing a varied programme of conferences. Before that he served in ministry positions in Aberdeen where, prior to ordination, he studied medicine at Aberdeen University, and trained in cardiology at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Table Talk

Apple, Spotify and Amazon

Table Theology (TT) describes itse;f as a place where you can be vulnerable and open. It is a table where you can share your ideas, doubts, and questions about theology. The table is a place for criticism in a safe environment surrounded by friends and family.

TT is a podcast written and co-hosted by Josh Harris (not to be confused with Joshua Harris of I Kissed Dating Goodbye), Ryan Wright and Sam Stoddard.

In this episode (8), the guest is Justin Brierley from Premier Christianity’s Unbelievable?. He hosts the Unbelievable? radio show and podcast on Premier Christian Radio, as well as the Ask N.T. Wright Anything podcast. He is Theology and Apologetics Editor for Premier Christian Radio.

Wright (who is hosting solo in this episode) and Brierley begin by discussing Brierley’s testimony and how he came to be presenting with Premier. Brierley’s book (Unbelievable? Why, after ten years of talking with atheists, I’m still a Christian) is also discussed.

This podcast started in September 2020 and has featured some great guests. Jon Steingard, Greg Boyd and Alisa Childers to name a few.

Airtime for different views

Much like Brierley on Unbelievable?, the guys at TT are not shy to bring those who they disagree with or those who they know have a differing theology or worldview onto their show and give them airtime to bring their arguments. The idea of this podcast is not to debate, but to provide those with differing views a platform to tell their story.

I hope in the coming weeks and months that this podcast will attract more popular names to bolster the conversation between those of differing views.

Jordan Brown

Jordan Brown is learning on the job by helping to pastor a church in South Africa.

Ministry’s dark feelings

Ministry is a privilege. It’s a hugely high call. And whether we’re full time and paid, or volunteering a few hours within the local church, we can all know we have a part to play in the greatest mission the world has ever known.

It’s wonderful to help people come to Christ and grow in their faith, in all the circumstances of life. The process of pointing people to Jesus can be a joy. The relational depth, a delight. When we glimpse the fruit God is bringing into people’s lives, we can be stirred to praise. But, just between you and me, that’s not how we always feel, is it?

The bitter path

Sometimes we have a different response to our call to serve. Sometimes we have darker feelings about the people we serve. In the quiet corners of our heart, a simmering discontent can build. When it comes to ministry, sometimes we just don’t want to do it anymore.

It’s not the kind of thing we say out loud. Not publicly, at least. But deep inside, the emotions can grow. We can feel wrung out, resentful – reeling from the pain that has been hurled in our direction, exhausted by the relentlessness of serving others and raging at our God above. Often such feelings come with a large dose of shame. After all, we follow a Saviour who sacrificed everything for us – we know He deserves our all. But we don’t feel it. We don’t want the life He has given. Rather than singing God’s praises, we echo Asaph in Psalm 73 when he notes how jealous he was of those who didn’t follow God and yet seemed to have a life of way more ease.

Each of us will have a different story of how we got to that place. All of us, if we don’t take action, will see our hearts gradually turn to stone – and, most likely, will see our personal godliness take a hit as we seek comfort in all kinds of wrong places. It’s just this type of disillusionment that has nudged many a Christian towards addiction, adultery, or angry entitlement in their dealings with the people around.

The better path 

Hard though it is, there is hope. The Lord who was willing to suffer and die on the cross, does not abandon His children when they’re brought low. Little by little, He enables us to be honest with Him – and a select few others – about the darkness that is creeping in. He invites us to lament – to pour out our hearts to Him, in honesty and trust.

In His word He offers us comfort and hope: He is the One whose everlasting arms will never fail, whose wing continues to protect. Specifically, Asaph reflects on four things that helped him come back from the brink. He reminds himself – and us – of the presence of God (v.23); the leading of God (v.24); the sufficiency of God (v.25) and the provision of God (v.26). And, in so doing, he raises our eyes to see that the pain we are experiencing is all framed by a God who is generous and kind.

Other parts of Scripture remind us that there will be justice for the hurts we have received. That we will be welcomed home with open arms as we repent of our accusations and assumptions, and return again to knowing how much we are loved. There is perfection ahead.

Such things help us hold in tension two important truths: ministry is way more painful than we would like; God is way more wonderful than we can imagine. He really is that good and kind. And, as we hold those things in tension, we find the humility to trust and the strength to persevere – and we are able to begin to recapture Asaph’s concluding words (v.28): ‘as for me, it is good to be near God’.

More about Biblical Counselling UK is available at or you can contact them at or c/o Christ Church, Christchurch Street, Cambridge CB1 1HT

Helen Thorne

We’ve forgotten Jesus’ command to tend the flock

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The last few years have been pretty brutal. Many are feeling bruised and exhausted; wary of committing themselves to church community; uncertain as to whether church leaders can be trusted.

Reports have been written, new policies adopted, commitments made, but there is a danger this will just be a clanging gong. A danger that we think our problems stem from a failure of teaching, understanding or practice, rather than simply a deficit of love among too many of us as leaders.

We have set aside the Lord Jesus’ example of self-sacrificial responsibility in leadership, borne out of love for people, and instead we have applauded leadership which is tough, independent, invulnerable and hierarchical; leadership where authority over people replaces love for people.

We have claimed we love the flock by feeding them, forgetting Jesus’ command to tend them. We have encouraged for ordination not those who prove that they are the most loving of people but those who are confident and good on their feet, those who can get a job done.

The deficit of love displays itself in the treatment of lay people of both sexes, of the young, the elderly, the marginalised and the poor. We see it in the way complaints are brushed off and those who question are sidelined.

When the men who claim to be modelling Christ-like servant leadership are in fact distant, dismissive or demeaning, it does untold spiritual damage. The damage is not primarily due to the actions and attitudes of these men – none of us can model Christ perfectly – it comes from the way that the leadership then colludes to deny the problem and demand that these men are respected and honoured.

Wonderfully, there are many godly church leaders out there, many serving in out-of-the way places, who are showing the most excellent way that Paul commends.

Men who love the women of the church and will lay down their life for them. Men who take time to know them – as sisters, as mothers, as daughters. Men who are delighted to see older women teaching the younger women and who will do all that they can to equip them for the works of service God has called them to. Men who do not treat Mary and Martha the same, and who sit with the women at the well and with the widow who has lost her son.

Men who love the men of the church and long for them to be godly sons and brothers, fathers and husbands, so they seek them out, bind them up and strengthen them for the task. Men who are so delighted when these men use the gifts that God has given them, that they honour them and learn from them.

Men who, acknowledging their own weakness, love and honour each member of the church family, as a fellow-worker and partner in the gospel.

Men who do not presume on their position but instead delight in truth and ask for forgiveness when they fail to model Christ. Men who would rather sacrifice their own comfort than see others harmed in any way.

Men who are humble enough to accept church leadership must be genuinely plural because alone they cannot meet the need or bear the responsibility.

Men who look to the Lord Jesus Christ for their rest and reward.

Will you join me in giving thanks for these men and praying that others will follow in their footsteps?

Susie Leafe is the Director of Anglican Futures which offers ‘day-to-day practical and pastoral support to faithful Anglicans in the UK,’ serving ‘individuals, churches and parachurch organisations by providing a place to think together about the future.’

Susie Leafe

Blood and Fire

William Booth, the Salvation Army and the
Skeleton Army Riots
By James Gardner
Lutterworth Press. 267 pages. £70 (hardback,
paperback due in September 2022 – £20)
ISBN 978 0 718 895 914

Opposition to Christian faith is nothing new. James Gardner, a local historian of the south coast of England, carefully documents the organised opposition to the work of the Salvation Army by ‘the Skeleton Army’ in towns and cities in the south and west of England in the last two decades of the 19th century.

The account of this ‘forgotten history’ is rich in details of who did what, when, and the results in terms of court cases and sentences of prison or fines. It is of particular note that towns and cities where this opposition was significant are where there are now significant evangelical Christian congregations, for example, Exeter, Basingstoke, and Eastbourne. Churches in those communities will be interested to know of the efforts of and opposition to the Salvation Army almost a century and a half ago.

The Salvation Army is an interesting example of the continued need to express the Christian faith in appropriate cultural form without at the same time compromising it. The Salvation Army was a rebranding of ‘The Christian Mission’ organisation. It recruited members as soldiers, spoke of beginning mission in an area as going to war and opening fire, and established buildings as ‘citadels’. It deliberately sought to attract attention by parading with a band through the streets of poorest areas prior to holding its meetings. It was these parades that prompted opposition and riots, though the High Court ruled that those mounting a demonstration were not responsible for the disordered response it provoked and so it was not unlawful to provoke unlawful acts in others.

The Salvation Army pioneered the leadership of women in religious organisations and its processions established legal precedent for free public religious processions in the streets.

We might critique the expression of Christian faith in militaristic terms: army, soldiers and war. Gardner attributes some of its success to involving all of its members in this way in its work. Today Christian faith is expressed in Western society in marketing culture, courses, and use of the internet which can depersonalise and reduce the faith of the Christian community to a set of personal preferences. Cultural expression cannot be avoided.

The author seeks to explain the roots of opposition in the conservatism and some vested interests in southern towns and resorts. Opposition was much less in the north of the country where nonconformist denominations were much stronger. While these may be factors, is there not also a certain inherent opposition in fallen humanity to the call of God, displayed irrespective of social class, status and wealth? Was the recent persecution of the Dean of Christ Church Oxford, forcing him to leave his post last month a decade before retirement, not to a significant degree due to opposition among academics to their Head of House being appointed by the Church of England, since the post is also of Dean of the Cathedral?

There are parallels with current orthodox witness to Christian marriage which focuses on where sin is having devastating effects on people’s lives. There is organised opposition through abuse on the internet and rent-a-crowd letters. There is recognisable success (see for example the witness of x-out-loud – Christians who have voluntarily moved away from an LGBT identity which is disparaged. The Church of England hierarchy is by and large disdainful. Yet where the Salvation Army had major impact is where there are significant evangelical Anglican congregations now.

No one now remembers the Skeleton Army. The Salvation Army has a presence in 130 countries and a membership of 1.7 million. Might lessons be drawn here for the future of organisations currently undertaking organised opposition to Christian witness especially about faithful man/woman marriage as a foundation for good parenting, strong families and a healthy society, which has a similar aim to the Salvation Army in seeking to address the spiritual roots of practices that hinder human flourishing?

Chris Sugden, Oxford

Evangelical Futures: Women – abused, mistreated, belittled and ignored

The topic of women, their value and their roles has never been more furiously debated. In the media the message is clear, too many women have been wounded at the hands of men. The time has come for women to be seen and treated as equals.

Sadly, within the church we haven’t always demonstrated the better story we have regarding men and women. The recent scandals in Evangelicalism have only served to highlight the ways women have been abused, mistreated, belittled, and ignored. A failure to recognise and deal with our blind spots regarding how we value and treat women has led to women feeling hurt, excluded, and not heard.

With each subsequent scandal there has been temptation to move away from traditional conservative evangelical teaching on men and women. The reasoning goes that women have been badly treated because the teaching we hold to about men and women is flawed. Change this teaching and women will be better treated. However, sadly, the scandals we have seen recently are not restricted to complementarian circles. Throwing out complementarian teaching will not bring the resolution for women that we are seeking.

How can we move toward a future where we better reflect what the Bible has to say about men and women and how they relate to one another? A future where we honour the image of God in women and declare their worthiness at being co-labourers in the gospel? May I suggest two ways.

Hold to complementarianism as good. Complementarianism is God’s good plan for men and women. Let’s teach it with confidence as well as demonstrating and celebrating the equality and differences between men and women. This will mean making sure the voices of women are equally heard in our churches. This will mean men and women appreciate and enjoy all the roles open to them within our churches. This will mean investing in women by giving them opportunities to grow in their ability to handle and pass on God’s word. Let’s help the younger generation understand why complementarianism is not restrictive, but actually leads to both men and women flourishing when modelled well.

Seek to prize Christlike character in our leaders. We follow a Saviour who knew the value of women and modelled that in His ministry. When Jesus met the bleeding woman in Mark 5, Jesus didn’t rebuke her for getting in His way, slowing Him down or for being a trivial unimportant woman. Far from ignoring her, Jesus offered her comfort and healing.

This was a woman who had suffered a lot. She had endured pain and weakness from blood loss for 12 years. She had sought help from the doctors, the respected men within her society, but this didn’t bring any relief, in fact it only made her condition worse. As her condition made her ceremonially unclean, she was constantly on the outside, feeling the shame of people avoiding her due to fear of contamination. Separated from society, from her family, her situation was hopeless. Jesus offered a way back into her community and family. He gave her back her worth and significance. He called her ‘daughter’ and addressed her with familiarity, intimacy, and kindness. She was no longer a woman who had been ostracised and marginalised. She was now part of His family, made clean by the touch of her Saviour. Jesus brought hope to her hopeless situation.

This interaction is not unusual in the life of Jesus. Throughout the gospels Jesus valued women, He engaged with them, He taught them, He listened to them. He offered them freedom, equality, and life. Theologian Dorothy Sayers wrote: ‘Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were the first at the cradle and the last at the cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never had been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered, or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them … who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as He found them and was completely unselfconscious.’

As we reflect upon those who have been involved in recently scandals, these ‘charismatic, intelligent, high-achieving, powerful’ leaders were prized for the characteristics which led to their failures. How different could our future look if the prized characteristics were humility, gentleness, familial love, and care towards women?

As we consider our future in evangelicalism, let us move towards one which passionately holds to the goodness of what the Bible teaches about men and women. Where we desire to see men and women working together, side by side, fulfilling our God-given roles, modelling Jesus in how we interact with one another, for the sake of the gospel, and to see God glorified.

Rachel Sloan

Rachel Sloan is Director for Women’s Ministry for the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches). Her role involves promoting gospel work carried out amongst women and by women in FIEC churches, alongside equipping and encouraging women’s workers. She also works for Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh, as their Women’s Ministry Coordinator.

Photograph: Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

Capturing imaginations

When it comes to communicating Christian truth, illustrations are often considered to be decorative. They are added extras, definitely not essential. Stories can be dismissed as a poor substitute for hard logic.

Perhaps they’re considered a concentration break, or an added dash of emotion to spice up your gospel presentation. Mostly, stories and illustrations are thought of as a sideshow while the real business is to state truths as plainly as possible. This, of course, is not the way people tick, nor the way the Scriptures present truth.

The mind, after all, is not a debating chamber. It is far more like an IMAX cinema, and it works best in ultra-high definition with the surround sound turned up to 11. Thomas Cranmer’s account of human behaviour has been well summarised by Ashley Null: What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies. This is a good summary of Pauline – indeed of Biblical – anthropology. The mind does not come first. Actually, it comes at the end of a process where first hearts and lives are captured and only later do we rationalise our decisions. People are not computers, crunching data, we are heart-driven lovers giving ourselves to compelling visions (and, naturally, giving ourselves to unworthy visions). That’s how the Scriptures see things anyway. Think of how Paul describes his evangelistic mission: ‘(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;). Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:4-5, KJV).

Mission is spiritual warfare. It’s not the casting down of city walls with earthly weapons, it’s the casting down of ‘imaginations’ by the preaching of the gospel. The fortress in which people live is their imagination, that is, their framing of the world – the story they tell themselves about life. It’s this imagination that needs demolishing and a different framing of the world established.

Ever since Genesis 6 the Bible has spoken of the power of the imagination. By nature ‘every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually’ (Gen. 6:5, KJV). Notice how thoughts spring from the heart, and imaginations spring from those thoughts. We love certain things and by nature we love the wrong things or we love the right things in the wrong proportions. From these faulty loves flow faulty ways of thinking. When you add up all these ways of thinking you have a whole thought-world – an imagination. This is where we live. We consider it to be an IMAX cinema. We enjoy the show. But Paul says we’re trapped in this fortress and we’re keeping the truth out. The barriers need to come down. How?

Think of King David, after his appalling sexual greed, abuse and murder. He wasn’t immediately racked with guilt. He didn’t immediately pen Psalm 51. In fact he was in his own little world of self-justification and pride. That is until Nathan came to him wielding a mighty spiritual weapon: a story. In 2 Samuel 12 he spins David a yarn. But it proves the perfect vehicle for the truth. Nathan tells of a callous rich man stealing his neighbour’s sheep. It evokes the correct emotional response in David, then – plot twist – Nathan says to the king: ‘You are the man!’ That’s how to cast down an imagination. Fight fire with fire, fantasy with fantasy, story with story.

I’m sure that, prior to Nathan’s arrival, David thought he was living in the real world: the world of politics, warfare, lust, greed, and murderous schemes. In fact that world was a fantasy in which he imagined he could safely sin. But even as David was imprisoned in his own delusions the truth snuck into his palace dressed as a story. It was a fiction that awoke him to the facts.

Next time we will think of the stories our friends and family live by, and the better stories we can tell. But for now, let’s acknowledge the power of telling and retelling God’s story. It is captivating in the deepest sense: seizing people from the lies that imprison them and releasing them into the truth of Christ.

Glen Scrivener

Glen Scrivener is director and evangelist with ‘Speak Life’ in Eastbourne, which trains Christians in personal evangelism, in person, in podcasts and videos.